August 9, 2011 – Riders are people too. People with opinions. And ideas. And occasionally, mind blowing insights. Or not. Either way, you can read some of their musings here.
If you know Canadian Grand Prix rider Lauren Hunkin, you might think she’s an unlikely candidate to head up a University equestrian team. She’s more “roll with the punches” and “rise to the moment” than “Do your homework, young lady!” (My toddler ran away FIVE times during the eight-minute interview I sprung on Lauren. Hunkin just laughed.)
It’s precisely that laidback demeanor and unpretentious style that make her great at her job. Hunkin coaches all 35 riders on the University of Ottawa team at Synergy Farm in Kemptville, Ontario. (She and partner Mark Struthers also run Synergy South in Florida.) She’s probably the coolest “professor” on campus.
A naturally gifted rider, Hunkin grew up on the Ontario show jumping circuit, training with Jay Hayes and later, the Millars. In 2006, she completed her first full year of Grand Prix competition, earning four top five placings and finishing second overall in the Eastern Conference of The Kubota Cup.
It’s been a steady climb since.
In 2008, Hunkin recorded back-to-back Grand Prix wins on her German-bred gelding, Larry (she was named Cavalor’s “Athlete of the Month” by Equine Canada in June that year). In 2009, she was “short listed” by Jump Canada. And in 2010, she earned a berth on the Nations Cup team for Buenos Aires, Argentina. (They finished second!)
Now her sights are set on the London Olympics. (And maybe an honorary degree?)
Who has had the biggest impact on your riding and why?
I would definitely say Millar Brooke. The three of them—Ian, Jonathan and Amy—have been so supportive. Any time I get in a rut, including today, I can ask them for help. It’s amazing. I learned work ethic from them. When I went there, I needed my butt kicked. They really knew how to get under my skin and get me going and that is so important in this business. If you don’t work hard, you’re never going to get there. Everyday is a struggle. [But] if you keep doing it, at the end of the day, it feels pretty good.
What is the one piece of riding equipment you can’t live without?
An Eggbutt Twist. Ian taught me that it’s a good, all-round bit. You can find out what is going on with a horse pretty fast with an Eggbutt Twist and suit it from there. Draw reins and stuff are great every once in a while, but if you depend on them too much the horse gets too round and you can’t get anywhere.
If you could change one thing about the sport, what would it be?
Community. I would like to see the young professionals coming along work together. I’ve seen it a lot this year, which is really cool. There are a bunch of us that have been on the road together through Quebec and everybody sort of supported each other. There’s been no nastiness—no hard feelings, no problems in the schooling areas, better communication. I’d like to see that more. I can go to Roberto [Teran] at the in gate, he’s watched my horse so many times, and ask him what he thought and bounce ideas back and forth. It’s nice to have other people looking out for you. It’s such a hard sport. When we all work together, it’s so much more fun. I love it.
If you had your pick of any horse in the world, living or dead, which would you choose?
I think I have him. Larry has been so good to me. No matter what I do, he still tries his heart out and comes back the next day and fights for more. I don’t know how I’m going to replace him.
How do you prepare mentally for a big class?
Lately, I’ve been struggling with that a little bit. I was talking with Jill about that today. Having the business and training people and having to worry about a couple of rings at the same time, the concentration and having your head in it is difficult. It’s hard to get a mental game going when you’ve got everything else on the go and 15 million worries in the back of your head. But, you have to dump it and move on. When it comes down to it, I think you have to focus on your big game and try to create a support system that can take care of you when it’s your moment.
For me, I go to the ring and sit there before the course walk and go over the course. Then I just try to focus on my plan. Obviously, you watch and learn from everyone else, but you try to get into your own rhythm. When it goes off, it’s really difficult to get it back on track.